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A letter to my children during a pandemic

We are warned not to embrace even the friend, but I must embrace you. I can't keep the world safe, but I can be there for you.
Illustrative image via iStock.
Illustrative image via iStock.

I have lived a relatively comfortable life. Other family members experienced global upheaval and the horrors of war. Your great-grandfather, who grew up in the pale of settlement, for the first time, tasted fresh milk and eggs as a prisoner of war. He served in Czar’s army in the war that was supposed to end all wars. My father, your grandfather, and his brothers survived childhood during the depression to eventually fight for the United States in the Second World War. Your cousins braved battle in the jungles of Vietnam.

It’s not that I haven’t experienced trauma and fear. I sat in a tape-sealed room wearing a gas mask while Saddam Hussein rained Scud missiles down upon Israel. Palestinians lobbed rocks and fired bullets in my direction as I traveled to and from Jerusalem. And, of course, we have all dealt with missile attacks flowing from Gaza. I have buried friends in the wake of terror attacks and mourned at the graves of children killed by terrorists.

The most traumatic event in my life was watching the impact of airplanes flown by terrorists collapse the twin towers in New York. That event launched two wars in far off lands. Despite it all, I have never experienced the trauma of a global pandemic with all of its medical, national, and financial implications.

What can I say to you? My parental duty is to keep you safe from an invisible killer that has shut down much of the world. You may not fully comprehend the devastation of the developing international financial crises, but the impact is taking a toll on your parents.

I fear for your health, but more for the health of many you’ve come to rely upon. Your grandparents, like so many others, are targets of this respiratory killer. As global panic sets in and airlines are shutting down, how do I tell you it will be ok?

We keep hearing that the draconian precautions only slow down the spread and that the young and healthy need not be afraid; however, as a parent to multi-aged children, it’s hard not to speak with fear. Schools are shut down. Even if they are moving to online sessions, the closing of brick and mortar institutions is nerve-wracking. Events were limited to 5,000 then 2,000, and now 100. Celebrations have been canceled, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has suggested we not venture forth to see the budding flora and wildflowers that are the result of an unusually rainy season. The Galilee is almost full, but we are warned not to swim. We wash – hands, cellphones, and surfaces in an almost OCD fashion. Friends here in Israel and abroad are quarantined, and we have discussed what we will need to keep our lives going when we have to do so.

How do we grapple with Purim and Passover in a time of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There is no consolation – only vigilance.

We are warned not to embrace even the friend, but I must embrace you. My children, I can’t keep the world safe, but I can be there for you.

Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the famed author of the book  Chazon Ish, wrote a brief treatise on faith and trust in God. He writes that sincere trust is to realize that despite what people claim, “who knows the rulings of God and His actions?” He continues that trust in the Lord is “to believe that accidents don’t happen.” In other words, God runs the world, and we need to have confidence that things will turn out the way they are supposed to, whether we like the results or not.

Yet, it is hard to have such faith while figuratively, or literally, wearing an N95 respirator mask and gloves.

So let’s pray. Let’s pray that God watches over the world. Let’s pray that He guides the self-sacrificing doctors, nurses, and medical professionals in their Herculean care for the sick. Let’s pray He protects those life-givers who put themselves as risk to help others. Let’s pray for those who have lost jobs and who fear for their safety and the safety of loved ones. And let’s pray that God helps the scientists and researchers find a cure.

More than everything, let us pray that we, as a global society, learn to help each other overcome this trying time.

About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.
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